E3 2005 Fricka’s Overview – Part 1 Day 1
E3 is a smorgasbord of goodness for gamers; every game company out there competes for their attention and favorable reviews. Yet E3 is also the arena for competitors to check each other out and for the game makers to have meta discussions about the games they create and play. For the past few years I’ve mainly seen E3 from the blurry eyed view of a gamer. This year for day 1 of E3 I focused on exploring the other side of the coin by attending some events geared toward the meta talk of E3 and by asking these types of questions myself.
Wednesday, May 18, 2005 – E3 Day 1
This is the first year that I’ve made it to the Media Breakfast and Briefing. The day started off auspiciously – “The power outage has to do with the grid itself…there *will be* an E3 today…it may be subdued” This was an announcement made during the Media Briefing. I personally hadn’t even noticed the lights had been out in certain corridors, I just thought that’s how it was since the halls didn’t open until later. I thought it quite amusing that the electronic entertainment expo was without power.
In the theater room of West Hall we had lights and power, so we listened to Doug Lowenstein, Electronic Software Association’s President.
His speech touched on a few points which stayed with me as I went through the rest of E3. The fact of the matter remains that, though the industry has often been rumored to be bigger than the movie industry, “it is simply not true – yet.” To make that true and keep the industry growing, Lowenstein offered up 6 points. Lowenstein said the industry needs to 1. Continue to broaden its audience and to create more games with mass-market appeal. 2. Create more compelling gaming experiences with emotional impact. 3. Make games more accessible and easier to play. 4. Find new financing models in order for breakout games to get made. 5. Overcome cultural resistance to video games.
Points 1 and 5 were made with examples of creating more female oriented games and more games that a wider audience beyond the subculture which existed around current games. As I thought about these, I looked around the room. Though we assembled were media, we were all players as well, after all who else would cover E3 but a gamer? What I saw around me was still a subculture. I didn’t think anything was wrong with that, if the industry was to go after a mass market, I should hope they wouldn’t lose sight of the folk who got them started in the first place.
After the briefing we all got in line to have breakfast but only the lucky ones actually got to eat… the electricity being out somehow effected how much food there was available. On a good note, the power seemed to have come back on before they officially opened the doors of E3.
After grabbing some quick cafeteria food, I hit South Hall.
I figured I’d start off easy. First booth upon entering was the Buena Vista Games booth.
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
Buena Vista Games
PC/Gamecube/Xbox/PS2, DS/GBA versions are also forthcoming
Like the trend seems to go, this is one of those “we’re making a movie, so let’s make a game too” sort of deals. It will be released prior to the film. I asked if the film contained spoilers to the movie and was assured it did not.
I was impressed with the graphics of the game, not so much for any sort of new technological advancement but because I liked the look and feel. It did not jar with my memories of the beloved book series though I did find it amusing that Edmund could pick up Lucy on his shoulders and spin her around to get a greater attack. It was a great idea to do damage with your younger sibling as a weapon.
In fact, cooperative play seems to be the big deal in the game, both in-game and in real life. In game you will need to switch between characters to complete quests. In real life you can have a friend drop in on your game, take over controlling some of the children, and then drop out if they have to go home.
A few other things that caught my eye about this game was more interaction with the environment, ice and a fallen tree could both be destroyed or weakened by action around them, and an impressive wave of orcs coming at the children as they fought them from tree limbs.
All in all, the game admittedly is targeted to a younger crowd, but I’d be tempted to pick it up if you were a fan of the books. Perhaps waiting to see if the movie is good for those types of buyers as well – if you dislike the movie then playing the game may only give you negative flash backs. Meanwhile though, I gotta cheer for both the film and the game, The Chronicles of Narnia books rocked!
Chronicles of Narnia movie props
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Just to have a children book theme pairing and because it was close by, I checked out Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. To cut to the chase I asked what was different about this game when compared to the other Harry Potter titles. Cooperative play was the first answer. Hmm, didn’t I just hear that? It was demonstrated to me that while one magic wielding character couldn’t move the rock by himself, if all of the characters aimed their wands at the rock then they could indeed lift it. This is in addition to a new spell casting system. Another thing they did with this game was to include a lot of broom riding, Harry was shown whisking around with a dragon on his tail. It did look like fun.
007: From Russia with Love
There were quite a number of guys crowded around these screens. I took a peek at it and was slightly intrigued. There was James Bond running around in his white tuxedo, looking as dashing as ever. Yes, I could see the appeal. I’m not sure of the playability, but this one has more of the franchise appeal going for it.
The trailer demo was great. The creatures were everywhere. Hopefully those who have been waiting for a long time for this won’t be disappointed.
Winner: Fricka’s Most Impressive Graphics Award
Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon
From one ghost to another... I’m going with themes here can ya tell? OK these graphics blew me away and I apologize for not having screen shots, however the game was only shown as a demo film. Even if you subtract points for having the graphics shown off in their best light, the shading, and dappled shadows in this game really made this look realistic. Almost too realistic. The demo guy mentioned how the tank coming in would be outlined in red, they called it “Heightened Reality” – I call it “let’s remind folks that this is only a game because it’s starting to look too real”. They showed a sniper shot in the demo reel that made me think that small children and squeamish adults should be kept away from this one. Other aspects of this game that were pushed as features was the fact that your troops wore ultra light armor so they could move with greater ease and therefore you could hide, jump, and climb easier, leading to a more dynamic game.
And 1 Basketball
They had some And 1 players showing off. They caught my eye long enough to try to get a movie shot of the action. Unfortunately I only got a few still shots. The game is about showmanship and includes a feature where you design your own moves to win the crowd’s approval. I’m not sure how traditional video game basketball players are going to like it but it seems like a novel idea.
E3 shows this year included a fire and music group on the NCsoft stage, and “infected” zombie people looking for brains and scrambling on the floor along the concourse. Celebrities also abounded. Michael Chiklis and Ioan Gruffud (The Thing and Reed Richards) from the upcoming Fantastic Four film were signing autographs.
City of Villains
New archetypes, enemy bases! Lots of fun. I checked this one out briefly, the new archetype (class) Stalker looks like a ninja. I took a video of the portion he was shown in the demo trailer. I actually played City of Villains last year at E3, they a team of heroes against a team of villains. I was on the Villains team. It was easy enough to pick up even though I hadn’t been given any instructions. I figured out I was playing a healer of sorts and went from there. My team won and we were given t-shirts. If the purpose was to show us how easy and fun it was to play even if you had no prior knowledge of even the basic class you were playing, they had succeeded. I noticed this year they were doing something similar. The real info was the release of the archetypes. Sorry I didn’t get a chance to ask more questions about this game, however I did get to hear Cryptic’s Creative Director speak at a conference panel.
Think Different and (Still) Succeed: Finding Success with Games that Fall Outside the Familiar – Featured guests included Jack Emmert, Cryptic Creative Director, Peter Molyneux, Managing Director of Lionhead Studios
First off, what a title eh? All the workshops had long titles. Front stage included: Panelists: Atsushi Inanaba, President and CEO - Clover Studio Co., Ltd (Viewtiful Joe), Jack Emmert, Creative Director - Cryptic Studios (City of Heroes), Tom Fulp, Cofounder - The Behemoth (Alien Hominid), and Peter Molyneux, Managing Director - Lionhead Studios (Fable, The Movies, Black and White). Moderator: Ted Price, President and CEO Insomniac Games.
Peter Molyneux, Black and White creator
The conference covered topics geared for a game maker audience such as how to manage a design team and bring a game to market. First question asked was, "What drives you to be different?" One answer from the panelists was to show what does NOT drive you to be different. “The more you think of financing the more you might end up like something else,” Molyneux said. Emmert countered that by saying that money was what did drive him in the case of City of Heroes, he said he thought to himself, “How could they [the industry] NOT be doing this!” The topic came back to financing however as it was acknowledged by panel members that finding a publisher for an unusual game was difficult. Molyneux agreed that the only way around the conundrum of getting a publisher to believe in your idea was to go ahead and build it first.
All of the panelists save Tom Fulp agreed that talking to publishers was a matter of getting past the gatekeepers (Fulp was in the unique position of having his publisher come to him). Inanaba gave this advice through a translator: “It was hard to get Capcom to understand [his game, Viewtiful Joe] so we had to figure out who had the purse strings and ’trick them’. He added with a smile, “As much as possible don’t show them anything”.
On the topic of originality Emmert said he did not consider himself original. He said, they [Cryptic] looked at the pace of combat which tended to be slow in MMPs then they said “Let’s make buffs last 30 seconds -- which made things more frenetic – but that’s all no more than timing. We just do what’s so obviously fun… if you have to think about it it’s bad”.
Molyneux agreed and added that thinking originally can mean thinking irresponsibly.
The panelists were than asked about getting their teams “on board” with the Right Idea. Emmert explained that they had a system in place. His ideas went to leads who garnered feedback which they then worked on for a consensus. They also have a white board for anyone in the entire office to contribute ideas. Fulp said his situation was different since his game started as a flash game, feedback came directly from gamers. Inanaba said that for his team it was up to the director and producer to be able to judge what the Right Idea was. Molyneux had this to say about Right Ideas, “You can’t be emotionally involved with an idea, if you’re emotionally involved with [an idea] you can’t let it go. Beyond that you need dedicated people who truly believe in the concept.” Molyneux told of how they had prototyped Black & White in 2D to bring their concepts to light. He added with a laugh, "If you do that, don’t show it to Marketing."
Next topic was how did you prod your design team for ideas. “Alcohol” was a quick answer from more than one panelists. Molyneux added that you needed to let your team get out of the office sometimes and added “Don’t let the game designers design the graphics, don’t let designers design the music… trust the people you’ve hired.”
Emmert gave this advice, “game design is a bastard step child. People say, ‘Anybody can do that.’ It sucks. [But] You either know it or you don’t. You can implement a quest but it doesn’t mean you can design a system.”
Molyneux said, “See what it’s like to play an idea. A lot of people think of stories but not ‘play’.”
The panelists were then asked if they had ever insisted that they and not others had the Right Idea.
Molyneux’s first example was the interface in B&W with no icons. He said he persevered with his idea through patience and constant explaining of why it worked.
Fulp said he had to fight to find the niche people out there. He figured that at least I like the game and I think there are others like me.
Emmert said he had to fight for having customizable costumes right from the character creation screen for City of Heroes, and to have a game without items. The costume battle lasted until launch. He also had to fight to have no characteristics – just super powers.
The panelists were then asked for examples of where they had thought they had the Right Idea but were wrong. Did you have a Right Idea that turned out to be wrong?
Inanaba thought briefly and spoke to his interpreter who then picked up his mike and said, “I don’t think so”.
Emmert mentioned that he should have never sold enhancements in stores, wished they had spent more energy in differentiating missions, and said that he had wished he had not hidden the Story Arcs in his game. He said that folks would stumble upon one of the best parts of the game and not know it.
Molyneux said he had a very long list. In his newest game The Movies he was the only person who thought characters should start off as extras in a film first. He said he had made a huge mistake with the Creatures in Black and White. He had thought “We don’t need to know what the creatures are thinking. Dogs emote, they don’t speak” Turns out players wanted to know exactly what their Creatures thoughts were.
Emmert expanded on not knowing what the market wanted. He thought that building bases for the bad guys was a natural idea but he also thought that City of Heroes would have a much bigger release, he’s not nervous about City of Villains.
As a piece of advice to game developers Emmert suggested alternate paths to releasing a game. “Go to venture capital companies” He said it wasn’t necessary to have to do what your publisher tells you to do. On the other hand he said keep our financers happy “Always hit your milestones. When I was grading papers if you turned it in a day late you got an F”.
On the topic of developing ideas and having outside influences game ideas, Emmert said that he doesn’t like focus groups. He also referenced the message board communities saying there was “no statistical drop [in play hours] when particular classes were nerfed…regardless what the community does, it doesn’t affect the game at all.” He also added that there were a lot of flamers in the community.
Heady stuff for a community member of the press to hear. I wanted to tell him that not all message boards consisted of nothing but flamers. After the conference a member of the audience wanted Emmert to pose with a nerf bat. I took the picture too.
The evening of Day 1 concluded with a cocktail event at the Mythic booth. I already had a scheduled interview with Mythic for Thursday, but this was billed as an informal gathering. It turns out that they also wanted to make a big announcement. Mythic will be taking on the Warhammer Online project. I made the news post here
The night wasn’t over though, what started out as a small dinner turned into some informal fun with some Sigil Games Online folks, Woody of GU Comics and his girlfriend as well as The Safehouse gang. I found out the garage at the Convention center does not
lock your car in late at night. This was a good thing.
Part 2 is coming up. And yes, you are in a time warp. E3 already happened but my multi part report is still coming out
Day 1 was a truly an overview for me, days 2 and 3 will include meatier information on: Dark and Light, Vanguard, DAoC expansion, Imperator, EQ2: Desert of Flames, Pirates of the Burning Seas and some interesting surprises are forthcoming.